By Michael Rosenthal
Manny Pacquiao, Freddie Roach and Bob Arum comprised the most-enduring and successful fighter-trainer-promoter combination of their generation.
Roach and Arum orchestrated Pacquiao’s remarkable transition from an unknown Filipino junior featherweight in 2001 to a beloved worldwide superstar by 2008, Roach guiding him in the ring, Arum building his image and Pacquiao winning one championship fight after another.
And they were tight. Roach and Pacquiao were like father and son. And Arum obviously had genuine affection for his likeable protégé. They seemed to a happy boxing family.
Sadly, time – as well as ego and money – has a way of changing things.
Pacquiao, 39, decided to move on from Roach after 16 years together, choosing to have longtime sidekick Buboy Fernandez work his corner for his fight against Lucas Matthysse on July 15 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
That’s an odd choice given Fernandez’s lack of experience but Pacquiao, who essentially will be his own trainer, has the right to make a change.
It just would’ve been nice of him to let Roach know. The Hall of Fame trainer says Pacquiao never contacted him about the move, which doesn’t reflect well on one of the most popular boxers of his era.
Pacquiao immediately went into damage-control mode when he said his professional relationship with Roach isn’t necessarily over. And Roach, attempting to explain Pacquiao’s negligence, wondered aloud whether his public suggestion that he consider retirement irked the fighter.
Still, while Roach stressed he holds no animosity, he was hurt.
“If Manny would have called me and told me what he wanted to do, it would have been a perfect ending, but I learned a long time ago life is not perfect,” Roach said. “If there is anything I’m disappointed in about this, obviously, it’s that I had to read it in the newspaper and I didn’t hear it from Manny first. That stings a little, and it’s disappointing, but there are no hard feelings.”
Pacquiao’s relationship with Arum also soured publicly. The story is long and complicated but this is the crux:
Arum originally arranged for Pacquiao to face the faded Mike Alvarado on the Terence Crawford-Jeff Horn undercard this past June 9. Pacquiao, offended by what he perceived to be a slight, turned down the fight and announced he’d promote himself.
That caught Arum by surprise because, he said, his promotional contract with Pacquiao remains valid. Pacquiao then made the Matthysse fight, with Arum overseeing the logistics, the undercard and U.S. TV distribution.
Arum later questioned whether the fight would actually take place because he wasn’t convinced Malaysian investors would meet financial obligations, a position based on his experience.
Those events and who knows what else led Pacquiao and his handlers to believe Arum was trying to sabotage the fight.
Pacquiao presumably was referring to Arum when he said: “Despite our efforts, there are still some individuals who wanted to sabotage the fight. I am saddened, but not affected, by what they are doing. May God enlighten their minds and soften their hearts.”
And in reaction to more-pointed comments from his handlers: “Just ignore what he (Arum) said. He is already an old man. Let’s respect him.”
That doesn’t sound like respect; it sounds as if he’s trying to hurt Arum, which is a shame given their history.
I want to be fair to Pacquiao. Again, he didn’t handle his separation with Roach well but he has the right to change trainers. And I understand Pacquaio’s reaction to the proposed Alvarado matchup on the Crawford-Horn card. He shouldn’t have to fight under any fighter, particularly one who most people believe he defeated in his most-recent fight. He also seems to genuinely believe that Arum was trying to obstruct the fight with Matthysse, which would explain his anger.
I just keep thinking of the old days, the glory days, when Roach and Pacquiao were a match made in heaven and Arum couldn’t stop gushing about the Filipino dynamo.
I keep thinking of Pacquiao’s appearances on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”, when the U.S. public fell in love with him. He was a man of few words but his smile and corny attempts at singing melted the hearts of everyone except those he was beating up. No one was nicer than Manny Pacquiao.
I would’ve expected that man to tell Roach about his plans before letting the media know and not make mean-spirited references to Arum’s age. Alas, in retrospect, it seems our perception of Pacquiao wasn’t realistic.
No one is perfect. And, as Roach suggested, that also goes for relationships.